Quotulatiousness

August 19, 2017

How to Safely Watch The Eclipse or CNN

Filed under: Humour, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on 18 Aug 2017

Remy has a few helpful tips for safely watching large orange balls of gas.

Written by Remy. Produced by Austin Bragg

August 17, 2017

QotD: Can you describe romance novels as “pretty people behaving stupidly”?

Filed under: Books, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I’ve been learning about the romance genre recently. I have no intrinsic interest in it at all, but I have an intelligent friend who plows through romances the way I read SF, and we’ve been discussing the conventions and structural features of the genre. Along the way I’ve learned that romance fans use an acronym TSTL which expands to “Too Stupid To Live”, describing a class of bad romance in which the plot turns on one or both leads exhibiting less claim to sophont status than the average bowl of clam dip.

My wife and I have parts in an upcoming live-action roleplaying game set in early 16th-century Venice. As preparation, she suggested we watch a movie called Dangerous Beauty set in the period. I couldn’t stand more than about 20 minutes of it. “It’s just,” I commented later “pretty people behaving stupidly.”

On reflection, I’ve discovered that PPBS describes a great deal of both the fiction and nonfiction I can’t stand. It’s a more general category that includes not just TSTL, but celebrity gossip magazines, almost every “romantic comedy” ever made, and a large percentage of the top-rated TV shows (especially, of course, the soap operas).

Eric S. Raymond, “Pretty People Behaving Stupidly”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-08-29.

August 14, 2017

When did you first suspect that the world was being run by incompetent idiots?

Filed under: Government, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Ace discusses the moment he realized there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for the otherwise incomprehensible way our government and mainstream media operate:

Here’s a question I’d like to ask. I’ll try to figure out my own answer in the comments. But this is what I’m interested in:

When did you begin to suspect that the people in charge of the government and the media were dumb, ignorant, and sometimes actually deranged, and what confirmed it for you? What were your feelings about this? That is, was it like taking the Red Pill? Was it scary?

I’m trying to remember when this happened to me. Oh, the media I knew was biased; but I didn’t realize until the last decade that it was pig-ignorant and incompetent and filled with people who are mentally unwell.

The government — well, I blithely assumed that people who ran the government (or other major institutions) were generally at least low-level qualified.

At some point I realized we are being led — or rather controlled, as we do not follow willingly, but through coercion — by misfits, morons, and maniacs.

It was both scarifying and liberating, in a dark way.

But I think these realizations came kind of slowly and I’m trying to think of major things that crystallized them.

It also changed my opinion of many of my fellow citizens and onetime allies: I now view them as fools and maniacs (or worse) themselves for apparently seeming to continue to believe that Everything’s Okay and we’re still being led (controlled) by, if not the best and brightest, certainly the somewhat good and reasonably intelligent.

July 28, 2017

Game of Thrones in the DC swamp, where nobody has read Sun Tzu’s Art of War

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Kurt Schlicter offers some strategic advice to President Trump, illustrated by some recent Game of Thrones narrative (dunno how accurate, as I’ve neither read the books nor watched any recent TV episodes):

President Trump has done remarkably well so far, considering the hatred, contempt, and subversion he faces from members of his own party – much less the garbage he endures from the astonishingly inept and newly Russophobic Democrats. These nimrods’ bright idea for appealing to the deplorable people we call “normal Americans” is to take the New Deal and replace the adjective with “Better.” It has yet to occur to them to try not calling us “Jesus-loving gun freak racists who aren’t afraid enough of the weather and don’t believe women can have penises too.”

But it’s bad strategy to rely upon the lameness of your opposition. Instead, the president should be focused on launching a disciplined and overwhelming attack against the establishment to force his agenda through. But he’s not doing that. He’s messing up by going off on emotional tangents, and it will catch up with him.

[…]

Spoilers follow, so stop reading if you care.

Here’s the problem. The president has some huge challenges. He has limited combat power – yeah, he has a lot, and while it is still superior to his enemies, it is not unlimited. There’s a basic military rule of thumb that you break at your own peril. You do not split a superior force.

When you split a superior force, the enemy can then move to defeat you piecemeal. A superior force nearly guarantees a win. Take the guaranteed win. Grind out the victories. Don’t split your army.

They did in a recent Game of Thrones episode. The hot girl with the dragons met with the sort-of-hot woman with the three hard-six daughters, the bi-curious pirate chick, the sassy old lady who used to be Emma Peel, and the differently-abled person of shortness, and they came up with a war plan. It was a terrible war plan. They split their vastly superior force in two instead on focusing on the castle with the hot woman who was getting it on with her brother before she became a big enough star not to have to do nudity.

Terrible plan. Naturally, the enemy destroyed their fleet because they split their forces and ditched their dragon air cover like morons. I expect the producers thought it was super progressive to have the generals be all either women-identifying women or dwarves, but then they got thoroughly beaten by a cis-vertical phallo-person of pallor.

I’m not sure that’s the girl/midgetpower message they meant to convey, but whatev. The point is that when you lose focus and try to fight every battle, you risk losing every battle. The Sessions fight wasn’t strategically necessary – hell, “winning” would mean someone even worse because there’s no way the Senate will confirm anyone as AG that Trump actually wants.

Focus. Discipline. No one enemy can compete with the president, but a bunch of enemies can. Using the superior force at hand in a cunning, targeted way can bring back the winning. But uncoordinated, quixotic, emotion-driven lashing out? No, that’s what the Democrats and the Fredocons want from the president – mostly because they know from their own bitter experience how it leads to losing.

July 9, 2017

Historical ignorance

Filed under: Education, History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jonah Goldberg laments the constant displays of historical ignorance in the media and on social media:

Ideological and political polarization is a big concern these days, and commentators on the right and left have chewed the topic to masticated pulp. But it occurs to me that one unappreciated factor is widespread historical ignorance, and the arrogant impatience of reaching conclusions before thinking. The instantaneity of TV and Twitter only amplifies the problem.

For instance, on the Fourth of July, NPR’s Morning Edition tweeted out the text of the Declaration of Independence, 140 characters at a time. The angry responses, from left and right, were a thing to behold. “Are you drunk?” “So, NPR is calling for revolution,” “Glad you’re being defunded, your show was never balanced,” and so on.

World War II and the Cold War, particularly Vietnam, used to define the intellectual framework for how we understood many events. For people in their 30s, that framework changed to the Iraq War and the War on Terror. In my more curmudgeonly moments, it seems like the new paradigm for millennials (and the journalists and politicians who pander to them) isn’t some major geopolitical test or moment but the adventures of Harry Potter. Having never read the series, I also don’t read the countless articles using the books to explain the political climate, but I do marvel at their ubiquity.

It should go without saying that a children’s book about a magical boarding school for wizards is of limited utility in understanding, well, just about anything in a world without wizards.

I once heard a story second-hand of a general who was talking to an audience full of 20-somethings. He was explaining how the War on Terror challenged his generation’s mindset. “I spent most of my career worrying about the Fulda Gap,” he said. To which one “educated” fellow reportedly replied, “I know that Gap! It’s in a mall near my house.”

The Fulda Gap is the location in the German lowlands where the Soviets were most likely to launch an invasion of Europe.

Today, we face a multitude of challenges, at home and abroad, that can only be met by people with a modicum of historical literacy. If only Harry Potter could cast a spell to give it to us.

July 7, 2017

“Donald Trump views the mainstream press with contempt, and the mainstream press returns the favor”

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jacob Sullum on the tendentious relationship between President Trump and the mainstream media:

Donald Trump views the mainstream press with contempt, and the mainstream press returns the favor. Or is it the other way around?

Just as the president has trouble distinguishing between negative press coverage and “fake news,” the journalists who cover him tend to treat every inaccurate, unfounded, or even debatable statement he makes as a lie. That mistake, to which I myself am sometimes prone, clouds the judgment and damages the credibility of reporters and commentators who aspire to skepticism but too often settle for reflexive disbelief.

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt recently catalogued “nearly every outright lie [Trump] has told publicly since taking the oath of office.” There are a lot of verifiably false assertions on Leonhardt’s list, but it’s an exaggeration to say every one of them is an “outright lie,” which implies that Trump knew the statement was wrong when he made it and said it with the intent of misleading people.

Take Trump’s preposterous puffery about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. “It looked like a million, million and a half people,” he said the next day in a speech at CIA headquarters.

Four days later, Trump was still marveling at the size of the crowd. “The audience was the biggest ever,” he told ABC News anchor David Muir on January 25, standing in front of a photo on the wall in the White House. “This crowd was massive. Look how far back it goes.”

Maybe Trump was trying to trick people into ignoring plain photographic evidence that his inaugural audience paled beside Barack Obama’s in 2009. But it seems much more likely that he was offering an emotionally tinged, self-flattering impression of his experience as he took the oath of office.

June 24, 2017

QotD: Manipulation of public opinion using “optics”

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Public business is now done this way in “democracy,” thanks to media that can capture emotional moments, usually posed and contrived. A successful politician, such as Barack Obama, exploits them with genius, and a cool confidence that the public has a very low attention span. They will only remember emotional moments. Angela Merkel herself usually does a better job, but nothing much can be done about an ambush. She did her best to diffuse it. She’s a pro: I’m sure she knew exactly what the game was; that she’d been set up. From working in the media, I have seen such set-ups many times: all the cameras flashing on cue. Tricks of editing and camera angle are used to enhance the “teachable moment”; to condense the narrative into a hard rock of emotion, aimed directly at the boogeyperson’s head. For the media people are pros, too. They know how to adjust the “optics.” Pretty young woman crying: that will sway everyone except the tiny minority who know something about the subject. And they are now tarred with the same brush.

Huge changes in public life can be effected with big money, careful organization, and ruthless attention to “optics.”

David Warren, “Authority”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-07-17.

June 23, 2017

Patrick MacNee of The Avengers on alcoholism and his life

Filed under: Books, Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on Apr 30, 2017

Patrick talks about his mother began to identify as a lesbian. His father moved to India, and his mother began to live with her wealthy partner, Evelyn Spottswood, whose money came from the Dewar’s whisky business. He called her Uncle Evelyn and he despised her.

He talks about his battle with Alcohol, being a Grandfather, working with Diana Rigg and his book Blind In One Ear. He has a delicious sense of humor and such a fun interview.

He was best known for his role as the secret agent John Steed in the British television series The Avengers. Patrick died in June of 2015 at age 93.

June 19, 2017

Political crossovers

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the most recent G-File “news”letter, Jonah Goldberg nerds out on the crossovers in comic books and TV shows, before pointing out that we’re living in the biggest crossover yet:

Well, the Donald Trump presidency is the mother of all crossovers. The primetime reality-TV universe has merged with the cable-news universe — and both sides are playing the part. This is a hugely important point, and one I think my fellow Trump-skeptics should keep in mind. Take, for instance, that cabinet meeting where everybody reportedly sucked up to the president. As Andy Ferguson notes, that’s not really what happened. Reince Priebus did the full Renfield, and so did Mike Pence, but most of the others played it fairly straight.

Don’t get me wrong: Donald Trump’s need for praise is a real thing, so much so he has to invent it or pluck it from random Twitter-feed suck ups. (Remember when he told the AP that “some people said” his address to Congress “was the single best speech ever made in that chamber”?) So, yeah, Trump acts like a reality-show character, but much of the political press is covering him like they’re reality-show producers.

As I’ve talked about a bunch, the mainstream media MacGuffinized Barack Obama’s presidency, making him the hero in every storyline. With Trump, they’re covering the White House like an episode of Big Brother or MTV’s Real World. By encouraging officials to gossip and snipe about each other and the boss, they too are playing the game. Much of MSNBC’s and CNN’s coverage feels like it should be called “Desperate Housewives of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

So, when you look at how that cabinet meeting was covered, it felt less Stalinesque and more like a creepy spinoff of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette or some sure-to-come non-gendered version (working title, “I Could Be into That”). I kept wanting the anchor to break away to a confession-cam interview with Mike Pence. If he doesn’t give me a rose but gives one to Reince, I will be like, “Oh no he didn’t!”

Meanwhile, Trump’s tweeting seems less like what it is — the panicked outbursts of narcissist with a persecution complex — and more like a premise of The Apprentice in which contestants have to deal with the boss’s rhetorical monkey wrenches. Back in the West Wing, the producers (who just finished congratulating themselves for coming up with the crossover idea of having Apprentice alumnus Dennis Rodman give Kim Jong-un a copy of The Art of the Deal) are trying to craft the best possible tweets to get Sean Spicer to pop a vein in his neck.

June 17, 2017

QotD: The Progressive comedy pause

Filed under: Humour, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Tell a joke to a liberal. Between your punchline and his laughter, there is a Progressive Comedy Pause. In this second or two, the liberal will process the joke to make sure he is allowed to laugh.

Is that joke racist? He mentioned Obama, but didn’t make light of him, so to speak. He also mentioned Michelle, but I didn’t notice sexism. Is it dismissive of the LGBTQIA community? Latinos? Muslims? Vegans? Will this joke hurt progressive causes? Will my laughter trivialize oppressed communities? Will I appear intolerant? I think it’s okay if I laugh. Yes, I’ll laugh now to signal my appreciation and to indicate that I’m not a joyless liberal scold.

“Ha ha.”

I first noticed the Progressive Comedy Pause while sharing my hilarity at office staff meetings. The majority would laugh but the committed lefties would stare blankly, each eye like that spinning wheel your smartphone shows while an app is loading. (The PCP might be why progressives just hoot and clap at Bill Maher’s jokes; the laughter reflex is considered problematic.)

[…]

It’s harder to laugh when you’re scared and much of the left is terrified. They know that an inappropriate chuckle, the wrong tweet, or last year’s term for an aggrieved minority can lessen their standing with progressive peers, if not get them fired from a job. Lefties also have turned the negative of humorlessness into the positive of moral superiority. Sniffing “That’s not funny!” at an inoffensive Caitlyn Jenner joke signals that you are more evolved than the average cis-het-white-oppressor. The same people who laughed at Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” now aspire to be her.

Jon Gabriel, “Jerry Seinfeld and the Progressive Comedy Pause”, Ricochet, 2015-06-08.

June 8, 2017

QotD: The Cloud People look out upon the land of the Dirt People

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In the French Revolution, after the White Terror, the Constitution of 1795 established The Directory. This was the start of a new phase in which the lower classes were mostly ignored, as the new ruling class consolidated its power. That may be what we are seeing with our managerial class as they largely ignore the results of recent elections and enforce discipline in their own ranks. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it may be useful in analyzing what we are seeing.

There is another angle, one you can see in this Scott Alexander post a few weeks ago, that was popular with the cognoscenti. Star Slate Codex is popular with people who not only think they are smart, but see themselves as steely-eyed reason machines. It’s also popular with people who like to believe stuff like this:

    Yes, CNN leans liberal, but it’s not as liberal as FOX is conservative, and it’s not as open about it – it has a pretense of neutrality that FOX doesn’t, and although we can disagree about how realistic that pretense is I think few people would disagree that the pretense is there. Nor is there a liberal version of FOX that lacks that pretense of neutrality.

That’s a very believable argument if you have no familiarity with cable news or you look out at the world from deep inside the Progressive fever swamps. It is the sort of thing people write when they want to seem like the people who write things like this. It’s the worldview of someone confusing a mirror with a telescope. To Alexander, Fox is way out on the fringe and they are brazen about it. CNN, on the other hand, is maybe a little biased, but they are good people, my people, so they mean well.

Of course, there is the omnipresent hive mindedness. The world for Scott Alexander, and most of his readers, is a world of black hats and white hats. There are those inside the walls, the people of light, and the people outside the walls, in the outer darkness. The people outside are an undifferentiated collection of eyes peering out of the darkness, which is why they routinely misuse works like “conservative” when describing the people outside the walls. Words like “conservative” and “right-wing” just mean the outsiders.

The Z Man, “Ruminations On The Way Down The Mountain”, The Z Blog, 2017-05-24.

June 3, 2017

Secondary boycotting

Filed under: Business, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Ace describes the way political groups can exercise economic pressure on third parties to influence or even to eliminate media voices with which they disagree:

The tactic being objected to — and I didn’t make this clear yesterday — is the tactic created by the left called a “secondary boycott.”

None of you can “boycott” Rachel Maddow — you’re already not watching her, and you enjoy not watching her, and you recommend not watching her to all of your friends.

Well, leftists realized that about Rush Limbaugh — you can’t boycott that which you already don’t use — and so invented the tactic of telling advertisers: Stop advertising on his show or we will boycott you.

That’s the “secondary” part of the boycott: You’re not boycotting the primary target. Which is obviously your right. You’re now conducting political campaigns against businesses to make them stop advertising, and get the show taken off the air entirely.

This is why Cars Dot Com and USAA boycotted Hannity — because the losers of this movement decided to start pressuring the advertisers to stop advertising there.

This is what I mean by “constant political campaigns being run against people not actually running for any office.” These are actual political campaign style efforts — with websites, donor buttons, etc. — being run not just during campaign season, and not just against an office-seeker, but 24 hours a day, seven days a week, fifty two weeks a year, against just about anybody.

Note that the fringe actors who do this shit do so to raise money. They’re fringe, and they’re not going to be hired by actual political campaigns, for the most part.

But they have to make money, don’t they?

So they just decided to invent their own political campaign which is not time-limited as ordinary campaigns are, and just buckrake endlessly to get this or that person silenced.

And they’ve had some success.

Even where they don’t succeed outright, they make themselves permanent residents of your mind: Because they’ve taught you to fear them.

This is what I’m objecting to — I understand that there will be politics in politics, but I don’t want fundraising political campaigns constantly running against anyone the left doesn’t like making all of lives, every single day, every single hour, part of and endless and ugly War of All Against All just so some energetic obsessives can make a dime and feel powerful.

May 29, 2017

Mark Steyn on the career of Roger Moore

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

On the weekend, Mark Steyn posted an article discussing the late Sir Roger’s pre-Bond roles:

Roger Moore played 007 in seven Bond films – although it seemed like more at the time. He was a rare Englishman in a role more often played by Celts and colonials – Connery (Scots), Lazenby (Aussie), Dalton (Welsh), Brosnan (Irish)… Any Canadians? Yes. Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell). For some Ian Fleming fans, Moore was a little too English for a role that benefits from a certain chippiness toward his metropolitan masters. Yet he bestrode the era like a colossus whose legs wee almost as unfeasibly long as they are on the Octopussy poster and whose trouser flares were almost as terrifyingly wide as on the Man With The Golden Gun poster.

[…]

But The Saint, for six years in the Sixties, was a hit of an entirely different scale, and made Moore the first UK TV star to become a millionaire (hence, in the Seventies, the tax exile). Leslie Charteris had created the Saint in the Twenties, and the books are very much of their day. But Moore’s version planted Simon Templar firmly in the Swingin’ Sixties with a lot of Continental dolly birds to give it some Euro-cool. Lew Grade, bored by running a local telly franchise in Birmingham, had his eye on the global market and gave The Saint a rare style for the British TV of its day. It started with the stylized graphics and theme tune, and then, upon the initial reference to Simon Templar’s name, the animated halo appearing over the character’s head, at which Roger Moore would glance amusedly upwards – perhaps the first conscious, and most iconic, deployment of his famous eyebrows.

True, if you paid close attention from week to week, the passenger terminal helpfully labeled “Nice” or “Monte Carlo” or “Geneva” looked remarkably like East Midlands Airport, but Moore’s tuxedoed aplomb held it all together. He was almost too dishy in those days – his beauty spot, for one, seems far more prominent in monochrome – and he sensed that he didn’t have to do too much but stand there looking suave. Everything he would do as Bond he did as Simon Templar: the quips, the birds, the sports cars. But he did it, more or less, for real. He co-owned the series, which eventually made over a third of a billion pounds (which back then, pre-devaluation, wasn’t that far shy of a billion dollars), and he took it seriously enough to serve as producer and director – although, on the one occasion I met him, he characteristically pooh-poohed the idea that he had any talents in either field. The series became less of a mystery-solver and more of a spy caper as it progressed, and indeed in one episode Simon Templar is actually mistaken for James Bond. Sean Connery had been whinging about his Bond burdens since at least Thunderball in 1965, and Roger Moore fully expected to get the call.

[…]

Moore belonged to the last generation of British thespians for whom it was assumed that acting meant presenting as posher than one’s origins. Unlike Lord Brett, young Roger didn’t go to Harrow but to Battersea Grammar School. He dad was a policeman who went to investigate a robbery at the home of Brian Desmond Hurst, a prolific director whose films include the all-time great, Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol. Constable Moore mentioned that his boy Roger quite fancied being an actor, and Hurst hired him as an extra for Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) and then paid for him to go to RADA. That’s where he met a young actress called Lois Hooker from Kitchener, Ontario, who changed her name to Lois Maxwell and became the defining Miss Moneypenny. Young Lois and young Roger both poshed up at RADA – although, as snootier critics with more finely calibrated class consciousness were wont to observe, from his Saint days to Lord Brett to Bond he was Lew Grade’s and Cubby Broccoli’s idea of an English gentleman rather than the real thing.

May 28, 2017

The Handmaid’s Tale, is indeed timely, but not the way they mean

Filed under: Books, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the Los Angeles Times earlier this month, Charlotte Allen discusses the “timeliness” of Hulu’s TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale:

I’ve lost count of the articles I’ve read about Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale that used the word “timely.” Timely, that is, in the sense of the presidency of Donald Trump. Here’s just a short list of print and online outlets where the T-word appears in connection with the re-creation of Atwood’s fictional America turned into a grim theocracy called Gilead that treats women like breeding cattle: the Hollywood Reporter, the Washington Post, the Guardian, Mother Jones, Harper’s Bazaar, the Daily Beast, Bustle, NPR, and CNN. The 77-year-old Atwood herself chimed in, telling the Los Angeles Times’ Patt Morrison: “We’re no longer making fiction — we’re making a documentary.”

The idea, in these mostly liberal media outlets, seems to be that under President Trump, America has become — or will become terrifyingly soon — a militant Bible-based patriarchy (hello Texas, hello Mike Pence) in which women have no rights, especially no reproductive rights, and are divided into rigidly stratified social classes whose very names give their status away: privileged, churchy Wives at the top, Econowives in the lower social orders, and cook-and-bottle-washer Marthas who do the housework for the Wives and their powerful husbands, the Commanders.

At the very bottom are Handmaids, political pariahs (wrong ideas, such as feminism) who become the literal property of the top-dog men and are forced to bear their children. (The Wives suffer from environmental pollution-related fertility problems.) As the New Republic’s Sarah Jones, one of the “timely” crowd, explains, “Of course, we don’t divide women into classes of Marthas, Handmaids, Econowives, and Wives; we call them ‘the help,’ ‘surrogates,’ the working class, and the one percent.”

At first I scoffed. There couldn’t be any more unlikely a theocrat than Trump, what with his misquotes from the Bible and speculation that he hasn’t been in a church more than twice since the inauguration. But then I realized that the liberal paranoiacs were right. Except not in the way they think. Instead of seeing Atwood’s fictional Gilead as a near-future militant fundamentalist Christian elite dystopia, we should see it as the mostly secularist elite dystopia we live in right now.

May 27, 2017

QotD: When international sport replaced war between the Great Powers

Filed under: History, Quotations, Sports — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I do not know if there was a meeting, in about 1961, of a subcommittee of the Bilderberg Commission (itself a characteristic consequence of the Great Change) at which it was resolved that, what with Great Wars needing now to be things of the past, some harmless outlet now had to be found for all those nationalistic passions which until so very recently it had been necessary for Great Powers to keep permanently inflamed (in case they found themselves having a Great War), but which they now needed to extinguish (in case these passions started a Great War). Discuss. Having created nationalism, what were the Great Powers now going to do with it? One big answer: sport. Don’t have the hoi polloi wave their national flags and have big urban demonstrations and nationalistic ecstasies and lamentations in their newspapers and internet sites and city squares because of war. Let them indulge in these things because of sport.

As I say, maybe there was such a meeting and maybe there has never been such a meeting. But, if such a meeting had occurred, events would probably have unfolded, in sport, much as they actually have. What did definitely happen, I assert, is that the end of Great Wars, and the coming of the Great Peace, has left a war-shaped gap, so to speak, in all the cultures of the Great Powers. And one of the many things that has flowed into this gap, like molten metal into a mould, has been professional sport.

The “professional” bit is important. The former manager of the Liverpool football team Bill Shankly once famously said something like: “A lot of people say that football is a matter of life and death, but it’s a lot more important than that.” And one of the ways in which it is “more important than that” is that the most successful sportsmen, successful footballers especially, are now paid such huge sums of money, a lot more now even than in Shankly’s time.

Professional sport means more, especially to spectators, than mere sport does. If a game is “only a game”, then people simply don’t watch it in large numbers. They may participate in large numbers, but when it comes just to watching, too little is at stake, in an “only a game” game. But if what potential spectators are offered as entertainment is the public struggle to become one of the absolute best at whatever it is, and as an intrinsic part of that the struggle to be either averagely well-off or worse (because of having placed your bets on sport and lost), or super-rich, depending on how things play out during the next hour or two, then millions will pay to attend. And that sets a positive feedback loop in motion, of more money being paid by spectators (including television spectators) and hence even more money being paid to the contestants, and hence even more being at stake when the contestants have their contests. And whereas the careers of earlier generations of sportsmen, then very poorly paid indeed compared to their successors, were often interrupted and frequently terminated by Great Wars, now, there is no such upheaval on anyone’s horizon, either to wreck sporting careers or to put sport into anything resembling “perspective”, in other words to make it not seem like a matter of life and death.

So, is sport in any sense a matter of life and death, or even, as Shankly said, only partly in jest, more than that? For many years I was puzzled by the constant use of the adjective “gladiatorial”, with all its ancient Roman associations of fighting literally to the death, to describe modern sporting contests. But recently, the experience of giving a talk about the sort of stuff in this posting made me realise that this is not an unreasonable way to describe something like this Anglo-Australian set-to that will be starting in about half and hour, as I first write this.

Nor is it coincidence that the original version of gladiatorial sport emerged into prominence during that earlier Great Peace, the Pax Romana. That too was a Great Peace that happened at a time when smaller wars continued, these smaller wars or the threat of them being the means by which Rome’s Great Peace was continuously contrived.

Brian Micklethwait, “From the Great Peace … to the ordeal of Adam Lyth at the Oval cricket ground”, Samizdata, 2015-08-20.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress